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Harry Who-dini?, or, The Problem of Expectation

Thanks for the great ideas and follow up questions! How many times have you read/heard stories about folks who lose their faith because their expectations weren’t met? In the movie, “Expelled,” about the conflict between faith and science, several noted atheist scientists commented that they lost their faith due to various combinations of personal tragedy and seeing naturalistic explanations offer an alternative to “Biblical” ones.

I suggest that both Believers and Naturalists have made errors in their expectations on Divine behaviour, and when those expectations do not appear to be met, it has caused bad theology and/or loss of faith. It seems that a lot of folks expect that if God acts, it will be obviously 'miraculous.' 

The Naturalists tend to say, 'because there is a naturalistic explanation, God couldn't have done it.' The Christians say, 'because God did it, it can't be ordinary.' Both views are illogical. The Naturalistic problem can be explained by this analogy--just because you know how to get out of a straightjacket does not mean Houdini didn't do it. The Christian problem is a form of shortsightedness--everything God does needs to be supernatural, and so they don't realize that creating nature in the first place was supernatural.

Ultimately, this leads to the conflagration of two very separate issues (and there are some who don't want to see them separated): "Where did the universe come from?" (ie- what/who is the agent of the Big Bang, et al.) and "What is the mechanism or chain of events between the Big Bang and now?" One is primarily a philosophical problem to which science can offer insight, and one is primarily a historical/scientific problem to which philosophy can offer insight. To the extent that the two can be separated, progress can be made fairly amicably. Keeping them tangled, in my opinion, is what keeps the fight so bitter.

One reason I argue for maintaining a theistically friendly worldview in science is that it keeps more possibilities open when interpreting data--let's assume for a moment that neither God nor mindless physical processes created the universe, but some third agent of whom we have not yet conceived. If your innate worldview assumes there is no supernatural, OR that the universe HAD to have been created by God, then your reading of the data is limited by that worldview. If, however, you are able to keep things a little more objective--"I don't believe in the supernatural, but I'll allow for the possibility of it in my model" and conversely, "I believe in some form of divine creation, but I'll allow for other possibilities," then you are taking the blinders off, and can let the data speak more clearly for itself.

We humans like simple explanations, so we make our theories fairly simple, at least at the beginning—it either must be special creation as literally spelled out in the Bible, OR, it is a completely mindless natural variation of genetic code and environmental factors. It tends to take a lot of difficulty to come up with a theory that satisfactorily resolves the paradoxes and lets us overcome our biases.


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